Memories of Anatol Rapoport
I met Dr. Rapoport in 1989. I had just discovered that there was a newly-established B.A. program in peace studies at the University of Toronto, and being committed to the idea of peace and peace activism, I wanted to enroll in it.
I will never forget that first meeting. I went to Dr. Rapoport's office at University College to discuss the program requirements and apply for entry. In the course of our conversation I was struck by his passion and his intensity and I knew then that I had met someone who'd make a great impact in my life. In the 18 years that followed, Dr. Rapoport and his wife Gwen were a constant source of inspiration, encouragement, love and support.
I lost my dear teacher and mentor on January 20, 2007 but I feel his spirit and his influence every day when I enter the classroom and share my knowledge with a new generation of students committed to the peaceful resolution of conflict. He taught me with an open heart and a deep commitment to the success of each student. Since his passing, several pieces have already been written about Dr. Rapoport, highlighting his many academic contributions and achievements. Most of us are familiar with these, so in this piece, I would like to share my memories of Dr. Rapoport as a a favorite teacher and mentor.
Dr. Rapoport was one of my favorite professors at university. He captured his students' attention, imagination and interest with a combination of an incredibly impressive amount of knowledge, a passion for the field, a wonderful sense of humour, and a very unique, and animated teaching style. In his class, at one minute he would be quoting from Konrad Lorenz's On Aggression, and the next minute referring to the Lilliputians to illustrate a point. We were in awe of his familiarity with so many subjects, his memory, and the way he broadened our mind by pushing the boundaries of our thinking. In seeing "excellence" in him, we were inspired to also excel. In giving of himself, he made us want to be the best students possible. So for his class we studied a bit harder, read a bit more, and thought a bit deeper.
But not only his great mind impacted our learning, but also his kind, generous spirit, his warmth, and his principled character. Our deep admiration made us excel in his classes. He did not believe in a detached teaching style. He was an "engaged" educator who truly cared about every one of us -- and it showed. He was the first and only professor I ever had who invited us all to his home for dinner, where we met his wonderful wife Gwen.
Dr. Rapoport and Gwen became constants in my life since that night. From them, I learned so much about commitment to students. For them, teaching and mentoring didn't just happen in the classroom; it was a full time activity. They demonstrated this commitment as a couple. When I mentioned once how difficult essay writing is for me, given that English is my third language, it was Gwen who insisted I come by for a few hours a week to improve my writing skills. Dr. Rapoport's recommendation got me a scholarship to attend the European Peace University in Austria in the spring of 1994, and the gift of a cheque helped to pay for my airfare to Vienna. It was the first of many such thoughtful and kind gestures, and a life lesson.
At my home office, I have a collection of some of the books he wrote over the years: Origins of Violence; Peace: An Idea Whose Time has Come; Skating on Thin Ice; Certainties and Doubts. Each of them personally autographed.
The last of these books, a conversation between Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Lenin, I picked up at my last visit in December. He firmly took the pen and wrote "To Cheshmak, in fond remembrance, Anatol" and when I held his hand as always and told him how much I loved him, in his ever humble way he said, "Thank you, that is nice to know."
I miss Dr. Rapoport immensely, and when I do, I pick up one of his books and read a few pages, think back to a favorite memory, and whisper a prayer of gratitude for having met him that day long ago.
Cheshmak Farhoumand-Sims now teaches at St. Paul University in Ottawa.
Two years ago, in honor of his many contributions as teacher and mentor, the Dr. Anatol Rapoport Scholarship Fund was established at the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto.
The goal of the scholarship is to support the research of a new generation of peace researchers whose work is inspired by Dr. Rapoport's own research on the mathematical approaches to peace and conflict. Friends are invited to make a contribution to the scholarship by contacting Jim Lawson (firstname.lastname@example.org 416 978 0271) at the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs, University of Toronto.